Tables and umbrellas on an outdoor patio

Earning a Health and Safety Certification

Late last year, Claiborne Senior Living was awarded the WELL Health-Safety Rating by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). WELL is a building standard that focuses on people’s wellness.

According to IWBI’s website, “WELL applies the science of physical and social environments to benefit the health, well-being and performance of your people.” The certification was awarded through IWBI’s WELL v2, which is the latest version of the WELL standard.

Tim Dunne headshot

Tim Dunne, CEO of Claiborne Senior Living

Claiborne first came across IWBI and WELL ratings during a senior living conference. “While the exposure was brief, the idea was alluring,” said Tim Dunne, CEO of Claiborne Senior Living, which has 10 communities across Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina.

Then, Claiborne mentioned the initiative during a discussion with one of their partners, Sabra Health Care REIT. They’re a real estate investment trust company and a leader in environmental, social and corporate governance. Sabra Health Care encouraged Claiborne to learn more.

“After a good amount of research and several months of discovery, we submitted our application to become WELL [Health-Safety] certified at all Claiborne communities,” Dunne said. “As we learned more, we realized the standards set by this certification would raise the bar for our communities and help us provide a healthier environment for our employees, residents and family members.”

He continued on. “In our mission statement, we state our commitment to enhancing the lives of our employees, residents and families we serve,” Dunne said. “The WELL Health-Safety Rating recognizes commitments to promoting safer and healthier environments for employees and residents. It seemed to be a natural alignment.”

In order to earn the Health-Safety Rating, communities have to implement certain features in their communities. Dunne expressed that as Claiborne began to learn about those features, they realized that many of them were already in place in their communities.

“In accordance with our mission statement, we already had many policies/procedures that encouraged a safer and healthier environment for our employees, residents and families/visitors,” he said. “[So] we had already incorporated several design elements that make our communities healthier and/or safer, and some of these met or exceeded the WELL standard.”

A few of those elements were smoke-free campuses, moisture management and robust emergency preparedness plans.

“From there, we reviewed the remaining features and categorized them into immediate, short-term, and long-term buckets,” Dunne said. “We [also] completed an in-depth review of several areas of our business and our communities.”

He noted that the process to earn the WELL Health-Safety Rating can involve a (significant) time and financial investment. So, as Dunne explained, the company decided to focus on three things: what features would have the biggest impact, what they could take on financially at the moment and how they could plan for the future.

Claiborne decided to first concentrate on the immediate and short-term features.

“Teams went on-site and assessed the community’s needs or status for the features we were pursuing.  These teams were empowered to make immediate changes to bring the communities up to standard,” Dunne said. “With community education, signage creation, modification of touch points to touchless, chemical replacements, ventilation system performance, etc., they were able to bring each community up to standard within a matter of a few short months.”

For example, Claiborne brainstormed how to reduce contact points to prevent the spread of diseases. They conducted an in-depth review of the community’s touch points—including doors, railings, buttons, handles, and devices.

Then, they made touchless modifications where possible, such as installing touchless faucets and paper dispensers and adding foot door openers. As for the touch points that couldn’t be made touchless, they made sure that the community’s cleaning protocols thoroughly covered those areas.

An exercise room in one of the communities

Exercise equipment and workout rooms promote physical activity

Other project features included humidity control; promoting movement, physical activity and active living; waste management; mental health support and education; and restorative spaces, support and programs.

“Each of the features has an ability to impact the health and safety of employees, residents and families,” Dunne began. “For example, proper infection control can limit the spread of diseases. Minimizing unnecessary touch points when coupled with proper infection control further reduces the opportunity for the spread of diseases. Add in proper ventilation with adequate exhaust, fresh air intake and filtration, and the risk continues to minimize.”

An outdoor pool at one of the communities

An outdoor pool also encourages physical activity and can serve as a restorative space

He explained that while none of the features alone are 100% effective, combining a number of them together increases the health and safety of the place and the people within it.

“[This] becomes even more important for those in our care who are in a weakened state or have a compromised immune system,” Dunne said. “These features and practices are now audited routinely by team members to ensure continued compliance—as well as to identify future areas of opportunity.”

After all of the features were implemented, each Claiborne community had to undergo thorough testing and an evaluation to earn the WELL Health-Safety Rating.

“[We made sure to] strategically implement and verify each feature across all our communities,” Dunne said. “These evaluations took place over several months [and] required multiple community visits, photographic evidence, copies of policies modified/implemented, etc.”

But, all in all, he noted that the initiative is worthwhile and important.

“Companies will do well to incorporate the principles of WELL that complement a sound business strategy, while remaining focused on their mission,” Dunne said.

A few members of The Village at Gainesville team holding the award and certificate and standing in front of a projector

Gainesville, FL Community Earned Inclusivity Award

Last year, The Village at Gainesville—a community in Gainesville, FL that’s part of SantaFe Senior Living—was awarded the Inclusive Employer of the Year award by the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities (FCSUA). The community was nominated by Linda Musillo, who is the program administrator for Project SAINT.

The award/trophy

The Village at Gainesville’s Inclusive Employer of the Year award

Project SAINT, which stands for Student Access and INclusion Together, is part of Santa Fe College’s adult education department. It’s a small, selective and intensive non-credit college program for people younger than 25 who have intellectual disabilities. The students attend classes, participate in campus activities, receive vocational training and obtain internships; they are also matched up with a Santa Fe College student mentor.

“We are extremely honored to be recognized as the Inclusive Employer of the Year,” said Cheryl Huntington, assisted living dining services manager at The Village at Gainesville, of the 2022 award. The community accepted the award during a ceremony that took place at the Florida Postsecondary Education Planning Program Institute.

The certificate

The accompanying Inclusive Employer of the Year certificate

The Village at Gainesville has been working with Musillo and the Gainesville-based college for about six years. If Musillo notices a Project SAINT student who she feels would be a good fit for the community, she reaches out to The Village to start the application and interview process.

“We conduct an interview with the candidate and offer a position [if they’re a good fit,]” Huntington said. “It is no different than any of the hiring [that] we do for all associates for our campus.”

Currently, the students work in dining services—Huntington’s department—although the community’s environmental services department used to have a student as well. However, Huntington noted that The Village at Gainesville is open to the possibility of offering opportunities in different departments to the students.

For now, students working in the dining department sit with residents who are eating by themselves, help prepare food and assist with cleaning the dining room. Additionally, using their knowledge and experience, they work with the other staff members to improve the overall dining experience for the residents.

Cheryl Huntington headshot

Cheryl Huntington, assisted living dining services manager at The Village at Gainesville

“We continually work to expand the knowledge of food preparation, cleanliness, sanitation, food safety and hospitality with our dining associates,” Huntington said. “With respect to individual limitations, we work with each associate to let them find their full potential in the food service field.”

Two of the students have been working at The Village at Gainesville for six years (so, for as long as the partnership has been going on) and another has been with the community for about three or four years. And, as Huntington explained, the students can continue to work for the company for as long as they want; they’re not restricted to a certain amount of time because they were in the Project SAINT program.

“We hope they stay and grow with the company,” Huntington added.

And she has seen the students make significant progress over the years.

“As our associates work together, they learn new skills to apply to their everyday responsibilities,” Huntington said. “Seeing someone grow and be a positive part of the team is rewarding.”

She is especially proud of one of the students.

“She started out very shy but gained confidence in herself and now engages with several residents. She recognizes their needs and remembers their likes and dislikes. She stays on task and contributes to the wonderful dining experience [that] our residents look forward to,” Huntington said. “I hope she can be an example to other facilities…[of] just how valuable the associates of this program can be.”

Huntington continued on.

A photo of The Village at Gainesville's culinary team

The Village at Gainesville’s culinary team

“We hope that other communities in the area…recognize the value of working with the program at Santa Fe,” she said. “It has made such a positive difference in not only the lives of our associates, but [also] the lives of our residents.”

She added that The Village at Gainesville will continue to support the Project SAINT program in the years to come.

“We value our associates from the Santa Fe SAINT program. Their hard work and dedication support our mission to enrich the lives of our seniors,” Huntington said. “[And] our associates embrace the opportunity to come to work and have a sense of pride for what they do; they make a difference in our community.”

CEO Lisa Gaudioso

The CEO Series: Lisa Gaudioso, Elegance Living

We all know that human connection is important; that’s nothing new. However, Elegance Living is taking that knowledge a step further.

The company developed a connection-based campaign that started in January and will last for all of 2023; it’s aptly named the “All Together Now” initiative. The program was created to encourage residents, families, staff members and broader communities to make connections with family, friends and the community—as well as within themselves.

This initiative ties in well with the Baltimore, MD-based company’s five core values: people first; we keep our promises; honest communication; have fun, be delightful; and continuous improvement. Senior Living News talked to Lisa Gaudioso, Elegance’s former COO and recently-appointed CEO (as of January 2023) to learn about the development behind All Together Now, how it works and what the goals are for the program.

Senior Living News: Who developed the 2023 All Together Now initiative and why? Can you talk about how the initiative works?

Residents dancing

Residents chatting with each other, dancing and listening to live music

Lisa Gaudioso: 2023 All Together Now was a group effort among the leaders of all functional departments. It helps our communities more tangibly demonstrate what we all know to be true. Through our operational delivery of programs, we’ve created a structure and context that makes it easier for everyone to get involved—every department, residents, families, referral partners and the community at large.

We all have the opportunity to bring the world together one connection at a time. Operational goals of the campaign are enhancing resident/family engagement, culinary delivery, employee recognition and giving future customers and families confidence and enthusiasm about choosing senior living. It’s also a no-excuses framework on coming out of the pandemic and delivering excellence.

Our company motto is Where Together Is Better. You could say togetherness is our superpower, and we’re using it to help more people experience the power of human connection. We can accomplish great things when we come together… 2023 All Together Now is a year-long, company-wide effort to promote greater connections to self, family, friends and the greater community.

Elegance communities will strive to collectively achieve a goal of 5,000 deeper, more meaningful connections in 2023. We know together is better. Human connection—the deep, meaningful kind—creates greater well-being and a less divided world.

SLN: So Elegance has set a goal of 5,000 connections in 2023. Can you explain the reasoning behind that goal? Additionally, can you talk about the importance of human connection?

LG: 5,000 deeper, more meaningful connections is a collective goal among our 26 communities. We thought about how many connections of each type each community could realistically achieve each month and did the math. We are measuring new connections by tracking social media engagements using the tag #alltogethernow, new Facebook page likes, new referrals, event participation and online reviews. We update our progress toward our goal [on] Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and our company website.

We’ve served thousands of older people over the years, and we know that human connection is a primary indicator of overall well-being. With 2023 All Together Now, we’re fostering those connections in an intentional way.

SLN: I read that Elegance is hosting special programs and events designed to foster connections—like culinary workshops, happy hours, journaling clubs and memory care support groups. Can you talk about those, as well as any other programming efforts that Elegance has made to help build connections?

A resident and staff member standing next to a garden bed

Residents enjoying gardening in the community

LG: 2023 All Together Now includes proprietary engagement programs and featured events designed to foster different types of connection throughout the year. Events include monthly Gastronauts culinary workshops, where residents experience a variety of new flavors and old favorites in new ways; weekly Cocktails & Connections happy hours with an active, participatory twist; InnerWise journaling clubs that strengthen self-connection; memory care support groups and more.

Our Gastronauts workshops are based on the fact that sharing food and learning new things together are two of the most natural ways we can connect with one another. Our monthly educational, explorational and gastronomical experiences include themes like high-energy foods, dark chocolate and olive oil.

Our Cocktails & Connections happy hours are participatory, active and bring people together in positive ways. We say [that] if you’re going to get together for drinks, make it count. They have themes like “Ice Breakers on the Rocks” and “Open Mic and Mocktails.”

Our InnerWise journaling club is about putting our feelings, struggles, successes and thoughts on the page, to open powerful pathways to connection with ourselves. Residents can join their neighbors in a supportive space to pursue personal growth.

With our All Together Now campaign, we are also aiming to support our local markets with an enhanced framework for memory care support groups for families facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Connecting with others who are experiencing similar challenges can be a source of comfort [and] a safe space where they can find emotional support and help others in their journey. The director of memory support will be on hand to help answer questions.

SLN: I also read about the 90-Day ME + WE challenge. Can you talk about that and how it relates to the initiative? Can you also explain the custom calendar?

Residents gathered together to feed peacocks

Residents feeding peacocks together

LG: On January 1st, our communities launched the 90-Day ME + WE challenge, a personal growth plan with simple, daily connection goals. Residents, team members, families and friends of the community are all invited to participate and track their progress on a custom-designed calendar.

We designed the oversized calendar to make it easy for residents to hang on their door and place a sticker on each day when they’ve accomplished the challenge, so everyone can encourage and support each other to reach their goals.

SLN: Can you discuss the donations aspect of the initiative? Why did Elegance Living choose the Blessings in a Backpack organization?

LG: For every connection made as part of the initiative, Elegance Living is donating $1 to Blessings in a Backpack, a non-profit providing hunger-free weekends to kids facing food insecurity.

Blessing in a Backpack is such an amazing program that is making a nationwide impact at over 1,000 locations, by addressing real issues that influence kids and families’ quality of life.

Intergenerational programming is such an important part of our resident engagement, and the residents just love it—of course. Knowing that they are helping kids eat nutritious food is a huge motivator in participating in All Together Now.

A group of residents posing for a photo in front of a natural landscape

SRI Management’s Signature Programs: Enhancing Care, Dining and Activities

Most senior living companies aim to go above and beyond in serving their residents—some elevate the dining experience, others create top-notch programming and others still put an intentional emphasis on quality resident care. SRI Management, which is based in Tallahassee, FL, has three core signature programs that strive to do all three.

Shelley Kaiser headshot

Shelley Kaiser, COO of SRI Management

“We aspired to be more than merely a residence for senior citizens; our goal was to provide a living experience that genuinely engaged our residents within our community,” said Shelley Kaiser, COO of SRI Management. “We aimed to enhance three key aspects of their lives to achieve this.”

The first signature program is Heartful CARE.

“Care naturally came to mind as our foremost priority,” she began. “From welcoming residents into our communities with a red-carpet grand entrance to managing daily care, our Heartful CARE program is all about providing a safe and secure home—while offering the best customized care possible, managing every aspect of a resident’s life to ensure we deliver a quality, enriching [and] satisfying lifestyle for everyone and going beyond our residents and their family’s expectations.”

A caregiver and resident walk arm in arm

Heartful CARE—compassion, attitude, respect and ethics—is one of SRI’s core signature programs

And there’s a reason why CARE is in all-caps. According to the company, it stands for compassion, attitude, respect and ethics. And, according to Kaiser, if you follow all four, it makes it easier to provide quality care.

“Demonstrating genuine compassion is not just visible, but can also be felt by those who are being cared for,” Kaiser explained. “This stays with them even after the care has been administered, leaving the resident feeling cherished and promoting a sense of security.”

She continued on. “A positive attitude is crucial for providing quality care,” she said. “We follow the golden rule of treating others how we want to be treated; this is where respect comes into play. [And] good ethics serve as the foundation for all the above principles.”

The next signature program is Artful Dining.

“Artful Dining happens when talent and passion merge,” she said. “Our chefs are thrilled with our approach, as it allows them to showcase their culinary talents and nurture those working under them.”

As part of this program, the communities also strive to prevent (or at least reduce) the potential for “dining monotony.”

A culinary team member holding a napkin in the shape of a rose

For Valentine’s Day lunch, the culinary team folded and rolled the napkins into the shape of a rose

One way they’re doing this is by providing a more restaurant-style dining experience. “Our culinary staff pride themselves on preparation techniques that are beautiful, savory and healthy,” Kaiser said.

Along with that, they’re changing the table settings for each meal, getting progressively fancier over the course of the day; they start with paper placemats for breakfast, use cloth placemats for lunch and end with formal tablecloths for dinner. The wait staff also wears different uniforms depending on the time of day.

“We created a dining program that tantalizes the taste buds and incorporates sensory elements such as sound, sight and smell, providing residents with a unique experience,” Kaiser said.

The final signature program is Zestful Activities.

“Zestful Activities provides abundant health benefits,” Kaiser began. “We recognize the importance of providing stimulating activities that foster socialization, physical activity and mental wellness, as research has proven that such engagement leads to better health.”

Kaiser added that it’s important to engage residents through a high-quality, fun and intentional activities program.

“Today’s seniors seek a wide array of activities, and we recognize the significance of providing options to cater to everyone’s interests,” Kaiser said. “While traditional games such as bingo and bridge are available, we ensure that we cover the mind, body and spirit at various levels.”

To help keep residents’ minds active, they created a lifelong learning program called SRI University. “Apart from inviting guest speakers, residents also have the opportunity to share their experiences and become teachers,” she explained. “With a different topic highlighted each month, they explore various subjects that are not offered elsewhere.”

The company also encourages residents to be physically active. They offer an S3 balance program that promotes core strength and balance, and it’s led to a decrease in falls and hospitalizations.

Residents doing water aerobics in a community pool

Residents can choose to participate in water aerobics classes to help with their physical fitness

“We also have a walking club that tracks the miles walked each month, fostering camaraderie through competition,” Kaiser said. “[And] this year, we have initiated our entry into the Senior Olympics, with the aim of participating in the national games.”

And lastly, they offer a wide range of spiritual activities—including group programs and individual reflection time—that residents can pick from and personalize to their faith and beliefs.

SRI also has a five-C philosophy. “These guiding principles assist us in providing the best possible environment for our residents,” Kaiser said.

They are: character, compassion, commitment, communication and consistency.

“We view ourselves as servant leaders who are dedicated to serving with excellent character and compassion,” Kaiser began. “We are here to serve our staff members, residents and their families to the best of our abilities; we are fulfilling our responsibilities if we have given them peace of mind and made them feel comfortable and at home in our communities [commitment]. Communication is crucial to keep things running smoothly, [and] consistency in our approach helps maintain this.”

And the two systems work well together; by applying the five Cs to the programs, that helps elevate the latter into SRI’s signature programs.

Resident reads a Letters for Rose letter with a high school student and Saracen

Laurel Brook Receives Letters From High School Students

Back in December 2022—just in time for the holiday season—Laurel Brook Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center received a batch of over 300 letters from students from the local high school. And just a few weeks ago in early/mid-February, the students dropped off another bunch of letters and artwork ahead of Valentine’s Day.

This intergenerational initiative is part of an international nonprofit organization called Letters for Rose, which sends letters and artwork to seniors.

It started back in 2020, when Annika Aristimuno and Layla Hurwitz—two high school students from Montclair, NJ—were no longer able to continue in-person volunteering at their local nursing home due to COVID. They wanted to find a way to continue keeping in touch with the residents—and lessen the loneliness that they reasoned the seniors might experience during the pandemic.

Thus, Letters for Rose was created. The nonprofit’s name was inspired by a nursing home resident—named Rose—that both students connected with immediately.

The organization is fully staffed by high school student volunteers, and they have about 400 chapters across the world. This includes the chapter at Lenape High School in Medford, NJ—the school that wrote over 300 letters for the residents at Laurel Brook Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, which is located in Mount Laurel, NJ.

The relationship began when Lana Minato, the head of Lenape High School’s Letters for Rose chapter, reached out to Laurel Brook on LinkedIn. She introduced herself, and explained that Laurel Brook had caught her attention.

Jessica Saracen headshot

Jessica Saracen, director of community relations at Laurel Brook

“She saw our social media presence and the engagement that Laurel Brook receives through the activities we plan for our residents,” said Jessica Saracen, director of community relations at Laurel Brook. “[She] asked if Laurel Brook would be interested in receiving letters and artwork through Letters for Rose.”

And, of course, the community thought it was a great idea and agreed to participate.

“This was a great opportunity for residents to connect meaningfully with the outside world,” said Kate Bauer, regional director of market development at Marquis Health Consulting Services, which supports Laurel Brook. “Some residents don’t have family members and loved ones close by, so to know that there are people in the world who care about them is so important.”

Kate Bauer headshot

Kate Bauer, regional director of market development at Marquis Health Consulting Services

She added that Letters for Rose is a great way for seniors and high school students to create an ongoing relationship. “We are living in a time when it’s hard for seniors and the younger generation to interact, and there is so much they can learn from one another,” Bauer said.

The community distributed the December letters to the residents—they have about 210 seniors—during their holiday celebration. “Laurel Brook’s activities staff put up giving trees, and we collected donations from the community and staff members,” Bauer said. “The letters and artwork were a great complement to that.”

Saracen’s team was surprised to receive so many letters. “The holiday season can be a challenging time for some residents, so our staff was elated to see them so happy,” she said. “Our team has so much love for the people we work with, so it was gratifying to see the community share that sentiment.”

Gary Bauer, Saracen and two high school students posing with some of the December letters

A couple high school students—including Minato on the far right—dropped off the December letters at Laurel Brook

Bauer chimed in. “The Laurel Brook life enrichment team wants to give their residents the best life possible,” she said. “This is where they live; [it’s] their home.”

Saracen added that the residents were really excited to receive the letters and artwork; they truly appreciated it.

“It was unexpected for them to get something tangible that they can hold on to and keep. Many residents asked for their letters and artwork to be framed, which we did for them,” Saracen said. “Everyone was overjoyed to receive the letters and artwork.”

She explained that one resident’s reaction stood out in particular.

“One resident received a picture of a beach sunset,” she began. “He keeps the picture on the wall in front of his reclining chair. He tells us he looks at it every day, closes his eyes and pretends he’s at the beach.”

Saracen noted that her community plans on continuing the relationship with Lenape High School’s Letters for Rose chapter.

“Letters for Rose is a wonderful initiative,” she said. “We are excited to continue Laurel Brook’s relationship with Letters for Rose. Additionally, the local chapter is interested in visiting some other…facilities in the area to spread the love.”

Rendering of the interior of The Mather

Biophilic Design: Connecting People to Nature Through Design

Senior living communities are always looking for ways to improve the well-being of their residents and staff—and biophilic design is one approach to do just that. But what exactly is biophilic design?

Mary Leary headshot

Mary Leary, CEO and president of Mather

“The word biophilia literally means ‘love of life,’ and it refers to all the ways that humans respond to the natural world,” said Mary Leary, CEO and president of Mather. “We’re calmed by the sounds of birds singing and [the] wind in the trees, we’re cheered by the colors and patterns of a garden [and] we feel safe when we have shelter with a view of our surroundings.”

She continued on. “Biophilic design is a design approach to facilitate access to nature or things that replicate those natural patterns,” Leary explained. “This can mean designing an interior space to ensure that there are sightlines to a garden, choosing natural wood and stone as interior materials…[or] designing spaces that bring the outdoors in by offering amenity areas that open to the outdoors.”

And, Leary added, the benefits of biophilic design are backed by research.

“Research shows that a connection to nature provides positive benefits to mental states and overall well-being,” she said. “For residents who may spend more time in their residential environment—particularly those living in communities with higher levels of care—incorporating biophilic design within interior settings connects residents to the natural world.”

As such, Mather, which is a senior living operator based in Evanston, IL, is in the process of building a new community that incorporates biophilic design throughout. “Mather incorporated biophilic design into The Mather in Tysons to enhance the physical and emotional well-being of residents, team members and all who visit,” Leary said.

Now, it isn’t fully built yet (the first move-ins aren’t expected until next year), but there are already plans for the Virginia-based community to integrate nature into everything from residents’ apartment homes to the restaurants to the programs.

“Biophilic design at The Mather is the intersection of buildings and programs with nature in an urban setting,” Leary said. “The overall design seeks to provide sustained interaction with the natural environment.”

Rendering of the exterior of The Mather

The Mather will prioritize letting in natural light, being in nature and using natural materials. (This is a rendering of the community.)

It will focus on a few things, including emphasizing natural light and being in nature when possible. For example, “residences offer open floor plans with windows that maximize natural light,” Leary said. “And amenity spaces [will] invite involvement with the outdoors, whether practicing yoga on the terrace, enjoying al fresco dining or relaxing in the saltwater pool.”

The Mather will also emphasize using natural materials, which will be especially apparent in the three-acre park—that Mather also designed—located right next to the community. In addition to gardens, walking paths and seating areas, the park will also have sculptures that are made from natural materials.

Additionally, the park will offer nature immersion programs that incorporate wellness practices from around the globe, such as:

  • Shinrin-yoku: a Japanese practice of nature/forest bathing.
  • Qigong: movement that provides a calming effect and helps the immune system—it’s part of traditional Chinese medicine—that is most effective when performed in nature.
  • Wyda: the holistic movement theory of the Celtic druids that’s similar to qigong and yoga. “[It] helps people achieve harmony with nature and contentment through mindfulness,” Leary said.

She also discussed the plans for the spa at The Mather.

“Our well-being spa illustrates biophilic design in practice,” Leary began. “As residents arrive at the spa, they will be greeted by our spa guide and invited to select herbs from our live herb wall to curate their own blend of tea, offering wellness benefits.”

She continued on to describe the biophilic design features of the spa’s lounge. “[It will] feature a backlit Himalayan salt wall with a halo generator, which disperses salt into the air to reduce stress and enhance skin and respiration,” she said. “[And the] artwork will evoke nature and incorporate natural fibers and materials.”

Residents will also be offered holistic therapies—based on traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, which is an ancient medical system that traces back to India—that will center around the five senses and incorporate natural ingredients like seaweed and dried flowers.

“Residents will end their treatment with a signature tea ceremony steeped in tradition from Japanese forest bathing, offering gratitude toward nature, while deeply relaxing to the soothing sound of a Tibetan sound bowl,” Leary said.

She also noted that all (or at least most) of the spa products will include ingredients from “regenerative farms that heal the land.”

For senior living companies that want to incorporate biophilic design into their communities—but they aren’t planning on constructing a new building/room or significantly redesigning an existing one—Leary shared a couple ideas.

“[You] can create simple—but impactful—indoor areas,” she said. For example, she suggested bringing in fragrant flowers and plants and/or creating a gardening space.

The students and some residents posing for a photo

A Senior Living Community Celebrates Chinese New Year With Local Students

Last weekend, The Palace at Coral Gables, a community in Coral Gables, FL, held a Chinese New Year celebration for its residents.

Pamela Parker headshot

Pamela Parker, The Palace at Coral Gables’ director of entertainment

“We celebrate Chinese New Year every year. We love celebrations!” said Pamela Parker, The Palace at Coral Gables’ director of entertainment. “[In fact,] we celebrate all holidays—and many have a cultural component.”

As such, they’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Ash Wednesday, Israeli Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo and more.

“Our residents are always eager to learn about other cultures and share their own experiences about travels to other countries [that] they’ve enjoyed,” Parker said. “We’re a very inclusive community and we enjoy bringing these types of programming to our residents, who are articulate, knowledgeable and love engaging with others.”

The Palace at Coral Gables especially loves bringing students into the community to interact with the residents.

“We invite school groups into our community any opportunity we have… Our residents love it when young people visit, so we take every opportunity to involve them in events and activities,” Parker said. “It’s events such as this one that keep our residents vibrant. The energy young people bring into our community…is exhilarating and refreshing.”

So for the Chinese New Year celebration, the community invited students from the nearby Belen Jesuit Preparatory School (it’s located in Miami, FL) and exchange students from Taiwan to come in and perform for the residents.

“Our Chinese New Year celebration is actually reserved for the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School yearly, as they do such an outstanding job,” Parker said. “Of course, different kids attend and perform yearly.”

However, this is the first year that they had exchange students attend and participate in the celebration. “Having the exchange students was a bonus this year,” Parker said. “My understanding is they are attending school at Belen for a few months and living with local Belen families.”

Students performing the lion dance

The lion dance featured a traditional red lion costume

As Parker noted earlier, all of the students put on performances for the residents.

“The presentation opened with the lion dance,” Parker said. “The cell [phone] cameras came out for this exciting dance!”

It definitely seemed like this performance was the crowd’s favorite. “I love the costume, and the idea that two people inside the costume move with such precision and synchronicity. It’s so joyful to watch and it always makes me smile,” Parker said. “And from the audience’s reaction, I think they feel the same.”

In fact, The Palace at Coral Gables actually owns a lion dance costume that Parker bought from China a few years ago for a different cultural event. And while the community usually lends the costume to the Belen students to use for the performance, they actually brought their own this year.

After the lion dance, the exchange students performed a skit that’s based on a traditional Taiwanese folk tale. The students also put on a couple musical performances for the residents, including singing a traditional holiday song and performing Chinese New Year music using a standard American drum set.

A Belen student putting on a Chinese yo-yo performance

A couple Belen students put on a Chinese yo-yo performance for the residents

Additionally, two Belen students put on a Chinese yo-yo performance. “It was really something to see,” Parker said. “Unlike the traditional yo-yo [that] our residents are familiar with, this yo-yo is not actually attached to the string. So it can be thrown into the air and caught, performing some very interesting maneuvers and tricks.”

After that, Belen’s foreign language teacher taught the residents some basics about the holiday through a few educational presentations and short informational videos.

Belen's foreign language teacher with a projected slideshow behind her

Belen’s foreign language teacher educated the residents on the basics of Chinese Lunar New Year with some presentations and videos

“[She] discussed the traditional way Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year, and the zodiac…and their meanings,” Parker said. “After the presentations, residents participated in Chinese New Year trivia, and traditional pineapple candies were distributed to those with the correct answers.”

In addition to the performances and presentations, the celebration also included a dinner that the community’s culinary team put together. “We offered a typical Chinese menu for the event: wonton soup, egg rolls, sweet and sour chicken, teriyaki beef, an Asian-inspired fish course,…lo mein and fried rice—with kumquat, pineapple cake and ice cream for dessert,” Parker explained.

The community also held a dessert reception meet-and-greet after the performances, where the residents and students were able to interact and mingle. During that, the students gave the residents homemade, hand-cut intricate paper rabbits—this year is the Year of the Rabbit—and origami fish.

In fact, the meet-and-greet was probably the residents’ favorite part. “Our residents loved receiving the beautiful handmade gifts,” Parker noted. “Some even have them hanging on their apartment doors!”

And she agreed with them.

“As wonderful as the performances and educational component of the afternoon were, the meet-and-greet afterwards was my favorite part,” Parker said. “The students were so warm and personable. It’s always a wonderful feeling to see kids comfortable interacting with our residents and vice versa. Everyone was engaged and happy—and even after the students left, [the residents] still talked about the afternoon over dinner that evening!”

Karp with a cart of jars of pop tabs

Senior Spotlight: Dolores Karp, The Moorings of Arlington Heights

Dolores Karp has been collecting aluminum can tabs for more than 40 years. She currently lives at The Moorings of Arlington Heights—a Presbyterian Homes community—in Arlington Heights, IL.

It somewhat began with her adding an in-ground swimming pool to her home. A lot of people started coming over to enjoy it, and while they were there, they’d often drink out of cans with pop tabs on them. Instead of discarding the pop tabs, Karp put out a container to collect them.

“My church was collecting them, so I brought them to the church,” Karp said. “A woman who worked/volunteered at the church lived near Oak Brook, and she used to take them there.”

Karp’s church donated the pop tabs to the Ronald McDonald House—which helps families that need to travel to get medical care for their child—and McDonald’s corporate headquarters used to be in Oak Brook, IL. (They’ve since moved to downtown Chicago.)

“She was taking them for a long, long time. And then she moved away and wasn’t part of the church anymore, so she wasn’t taking them,” Karp explained. “That’s when I had to take it upon myself to do it on my own and find places to drop them off.”

Eventually, word spread about Karp collecting pop tabs. “People were ringing my doorbell and handing me plastic Ziploc bags full of pop tabs, saying ‘I heard you collect these; I’m giving them to you,’” she said.

She also used to pull tabs off of cans that she saw on the street. “I would stop the car, get out of the car and pull off the tabs,” Karp said. “At that time, I used to take the whole can. There’s a place in Des Plaines, IL—not too far from where I lived—where you would take in your cans for money. So I would get money for the cans, and keep the tabs for McDonald’s.”

And when she got to The Moorings, she continued to collect pop tabs from her fellow residents.

Karp standing next to a pop tab collection jar at The Moorings

Karp put a pop tab collection jar in the activity room at The Moorings

“I got here in November of 2016, and soon after that, I said [to the staff], ‘Do you think you could do me a favor?’ So the activity room here has a jar and people put them in,” she said. “Not everybody does it, but a lot of people do.”

And, like before, people will occasionally give her bags full of pop tabs. Karp shared that she was having dinner with one of her friends and her friend’s cousin, and her friend gave her a Ziploc bag of beer can tabs from her brother.

Just last month, Karp made a significant donation to the Ronald McDonald House in Winfield, IL. Up until then, when a jar was full of pop tabs, she’d bring it up to her apartment.

“I had so many of them, I thought, ‘The floor’s going to break underneath because I have nine jars!’ My daughter…looked into it and we decided to take it to the Ronald McDonald House,” Karp explained. “So I went with a cart full of tabs over there because I knew they would want them.”

When she got there, they weighed her donation. Karp had collected just over 49 pounds, which worked out to about 62,000 tabs! “They were so grateful,” she said. These were all the tabs that she’d collected since she started living at The Moorings about six years ago.

Karp with a cart of jars of pop tabs

Karp collected more than 49 pounds of pop tabs over about six years, and donated all of it to the Ronald McDonald House

However, despite her recent sizable donation—and her ongoing dedication to collecting pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House—Karp is so humble about it.

“It’s not a big deal; I’ve been doing this for so long… And [especially] now, I have time—I’m 88 years old and I don’t have a job,” she said. “And it’s such an easy thing to do—I’m not being humble about it. The people are doing it; I’m just collecting it.”

She continued on. “I’m looking at the people who volunteer [at the Ronald McDonald House]… Everybody I spoke to in the Winfield, IL location was a volunteer,” Karp said. “The Ronald McDonald House is wonderful.”

Karp grew up in poverty, so that likely influenced her desire to give back—and her careful approach with money. When she was five and a half, her dad passed away of a heart attack on January 2, 1940, about a week after his 40th birthday.

“My mother at that time had…three children, $10, no job and didn’t speak English,” Karp said. “10 American dollars in 1940 was probably a half a week’s wages—my father maybe made $25 a week.”

Luckily, social security—which was founded in the mid-1930s—had its first payouts in January 1940. “So my mother was one of the first people in Chicago to collect social security.”

Then, when Karp got married and moved out, her mother came to live with her—and she became senile. “She lived in my house; we had no money for care. She had no money, and I didn’t have any kind of money like that,” Karp said.

So, to this day, Karp is still very mindful of money.

“One day, I got home from the store and they [had] overcharged me $1.60. I’m talking to my daughter [about] my day, and I said, ‘I have to go back to the store. I was overcharged.’ She said, ‘Mom, you have money; forget about it. It’s $1.60.’ I said, ‘I know,’” Karp said. “But when you have that kind of mentality, it doesn’t go away.”

As for her advice to people who want to give back, but have no idea where to start?

“When you’re laying down at night, just before you go to bed, start thinking about your life. Is there anything that you think you could pass on to someone?… [Is] there something that made a difference in your life?” she said. “Think about something that you like, makes a difference, makes you happy or a story that you heard. It’s got to come from within.”

Cutting the ribbon during the event

Messiah Lifeways’ New Memory Care Courtyard

When Asper neighborhood—Messiah Lifeways at Messiah Village’s secure memory care and dementia neighborhood—moved from the second floor down to the main floor in 2021, the staff realized that this created an opportunity for it to be connected to a courtyard that’s specifically designed for memory care residents and their needs. So that’s what they did, and they called it Asper Courtyard.

Kim Butler headshot

Kim Butler, BSN, RN, nursing home administrator at Messiah Lifeways

“We wanted residents to have access to outdoor activities…while being able to do this in a safe and secure outdoor environment,” said Kim Butler, BSN, RN, nursing home administrator at Messiah Lifeways. “The interdisciplinary team that worked on planning this project wanted to ensure the space was safe for all residents. We put ourselves in the shoes of the residents to best determine their needs.”

For example, when it comes to getting around, the neighborhood has residents of all different abilities—some walk on their own, some walk with walkers and other move about using self-propelled wheelchairs. Additionally, Butler noted that fall risk is a significant concern for these residents.

“Taking all of those things into consideration, we chose a ground cover that is rubber surfacing and would allow for smooth transitions when ambulating,” she said.

They also wanted to help residents experience and enjoy typical outdoor activities, like gardening.

“We purchased several raised garden beds so all residents could join the fun of getting their hands dirty and planting some flowers and vegetables that they can nurture,” Butler said.

However, they took special care when selecting the flowers for the space; Messiah Lifeways’ grounds manager made sure to only choose non-toxic plants.

“It is not unusual for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia to tear a leaf from a plant and put it in his or her mouth,” Butler explained. “While a team member will always be present with residents in this space, we wanted to ensure that if a plant was mistakenly ingested, it would not cause harm.”

There are tables and gardening planters in Asper Courtyard

Asper Courtyard has plenty of tables for relaxing and socializing, and many raised planters for gardening

The courtyard also has an herb garden, and they’re trying to brainstorm ways to incorporate those herbs (and the vegetables) into other activities at the community, like for cooking and during art groups. Furthermore, they’re going to coordinate with their culinary team to host picnic-style events in the space.

“The courtyard’s openness will allow us to offer a variety of programming, including sensory and social/reminisce programs,” Butler said. Some of these activities will be more active, like having nursing work with residents and assist them with walking outside, and others will be more creative-oriented, like scheduling the occasional music therapy session to take place in the courtyard.

“We also installed a large retractable awning over Asper Courtyard,” Butler said. “As individuals grow older, their skin becomes more sensitive, which can make them more susceptible to sunburn. We wanted to create shade in this space for residents, even on extra sunny days.”

That being said, the community hasn’t really been able to use and enjoy the new courtyard to its fullest potential yet. Not only did the ribbon-cutting ceremony take place in early November of last year, but Messiah Lifeways is also located in Mechanicsburg, PA.

So, needless to say, the residents and staff are excited for the weather to get warmer so they can spend time outside in Asper Courtyard. “We think an important part of resident care is encouraging time outside,” said Butler. “Residents who live in our memory care neighborhoods truly light up when spending time outside. We have noticed that they are more engaged, and many residents have increased socialization while they are outside.”

However, some residents did try to take advantage of the time outside in the new courtyard during the ribbon-cutting event.

“There are a few trees that are visible from the courtyard, and one tree had beautiful yellow leaves that were blowing with the breeze,” Butler began. “One male resident was in awe of this tree and the view, and he wanted to spend as much time outside during this event—despite it being a bit chilly that day. I really enjoyed sitting with him and spending time being present in the moment.”

And that’s been her favorite part of this courtyard so far.

“Residents, family members, staff and donors who attended the ribbon cutting were all very excited for this new space and what it has to offer residents with dementia,” Butler said. “My favorite part of Asper Courtyard, too, is the opportunity that it creates for residents, and their responses and reactions to the space.”

A Dining Experience panelists: McGee, Parton and Ratigan

A Dining Experience: Going Beyond Feeding and Eating

The final panel of HEALTHTAC Food and Beverage 2022 centered around ensuring a dining experience for residents. During the panel, which was titled “A Dining Experience: How Senior Living F&B Is Going Beyond Feeding and Eating,” the culinary executives discussed eating versus dining, innovation, trends and more.

“Feeding is where we were before in senior living, where it was just the option of the day—and if you didn’t like it, maybe you got a tuna sandwich as your alternate. There was no effort put into it,” said Tyler Ratigan, director of culinary operations at Ovation by Avamere. “But today, we’re seeing restaurants and display kitchens being built, and really creating an experience.”

Another panelist agreed. “Now we’re seeing ourselves as a restaurant/dining option, coming away from just trying to fulfill the basic need of having our residents fed and nutritionally complete,” said Natalie McGee, VP of resident engagement and experience at Milestone Retirement Communities. “To me, it’s the intentionality… Even changing titles and being intentional with word usage makes a difference.”

Thad Parton, corporate director of restaurant operations at Mather, spoke from personal experience regarding updating titles.

“New hires come in…and they seem to forget that they came out of the restaurant business,” Parton said. “So changing their titles gets them back into that mindset. You have to remind them [that]…just because we’re in a senior living community, doesn’t mean we’re [not] running restaurants… Residents can go out; they don’t have to dine with us. But we want to be their restaurant of choice.”

And that restaurant mentality is key.

Parton recently implemented a process of handing residents a check after their meal. But they’re not paying, so why do they need to see a check?

“We’re on a declining balance program [and] residents want to know what they spent on their meal,” he explained. “And you sign a check at a restaurant, right?… It shouldn’t be any different in our restaurants. They sign the check that says they saw what was spent and what’s left, and they agree with that.”

Part of the restaurant mentality also includes opening up the community’s restaurants to the public. Ratigan’s doing that with his fine dining restaurant.

“We’re trying to invite the public in,” he said. “We’re open three nights a week, and we get lots of outside people coming in.”

It’s also important for residents to have options. Parton’s community has a fine dining venue, an upscale casual restaurant, an all-day café and a coffee shop/bar lounge. “Being able to…choose from four restaurants every night for dinner—or every day for lunch or breakfast—is a big part of that restaurant-style experience,” he said.

Ratigan’s also trying to ensure a dining experience for his residents through non-traditional kitchen setups. “In one of our communities, we have a display kitchen—that’s out front with our pizza oven, induction burners and a whole bar setup. And our assisted livings are open kitchens where the residents are able to see the cooks,” Ratigan said. “[It’s about] putting the cooks out front with everybody to build a familiar face [and] so the residents know who their food is prepared by.”

However, some residents don’t feel comfortable eating in a restaurant or dining room yet.

For McGee’s residents that still prefer to get food delivered, she’s created a dining experience for them through plating, using china and good cutlery and making sure the food is still warm by the time it gets to them. “We’re trying to give them that in-room dining experience,” she said, “until they’re ready to come back and join us [in the dining room].”

The panelists also stressed that residents at all care levels should get a dining experience (and aren’t just fed).

“I feel like the further you go down the line, you always get forgotten about,” Ratigan began. “We should be elevating dining beyond independent living… Typically, in assisted living, memory care or long-term care, they’re paying more money, but maybe the food is worse. Try to elevate dining on all aspects. Don’t just focus on the shiny independent living venues that are being built—put forth effort into the rest of the continuum of care.”

McGee agreed. “The experience should be transferable between the different modes of living and different tiers,” she said. “What does dining look [like] for someone that’s going through the cognitive changes of memory decline?… Sometimes someone needs diced, pureed or thickened food; how can we accommodate that need, but still have an elevated experience for them?”

Panelists pose for a photo outside

From left to right: Caroline Chan (moderator), McGee, Ratigan and Parton

The panelists also discussed the innovative measures that they’re taking in their communities.

“I think of innovation as something new—something that your residents and teams haven’t seen before,” Parton said. His community has robots running food out to the dining room, and they’re about to implement hydroponic gardens.

To help residents who are visually impaired, Ratigan’s communities have plates with colored rings so those seniors can see the plate better, and they’re starting to add braille to their menus.

McGee’s looking at innovation not only for her residents, but also her employees.

One of her communities has a demo kitchen, and they’re going to try and use it to host a Food Network-style cooking show. “We’re going to have our residents cooking with our chefs, and we’re going to be recording and broadcasting it,” she explained. “Our residents are coming for fine dining—they’re paying for that and enjoying that service experience—but they [also might] come from years of cooking; some of them are still engaged in that way. So it’s about [finding] that balance.”

Her communities also hosted a Christmas bake-off in December, where their chefs could submit their best desserts.

“A lot of times we’re focusing on our residents (as we should), but our employees provide the experience and engagement, so it has to be in tandem. What are we doing on the resident side and on the employee side, and how can we have those two in a symbiotic relationship so they’re both getting recharged from each other?” she said. “Bring the employees into the experience for that engagement.”

Parton’s also been innovating for his employees in the form of a training program. The first level is required—in fact, that’s part of the onboarding process for new employees.

“We’re not recruiting seasoned servers/cooks anymore; to get people in the door, we’re willing to take people with less experience,” Parton said. “You have to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.”

However, if an employee takes and passes the optional levels two, three and/or four, they earn another $0.50 per hour. “Give your team members an incentive to engage in the system,” he said. “And [if] somebody’s incentivized to go through those levels…now, we’ve got our next lead cook/server/sous chef. There’s a clear career ladder for them to follow to prepare for the next big role.”

After all, the biggest thing he’s learned is continuous improvement.

“As a young line cook…I spent years cooking starches and vegetables, and I always tried to make today better than yesterday. How can I blanch those green beans better today than I did yesterday? It was a game with myself,” Parton said. “So I challenge my teams to think about how yesterday went, and how can I make today better?… The team members, residents and business [all] benefit from that mentality.”

While McGee agreed that improvement is important, she also emphasized making employees feel valued where they stand now.

“Sometimes our chefs are in the kitchen, they create a beautiful meal, it goes out [and] the servers get the kudos/feedback. I’m trying to build into the service process that in some way…every person that plays a part gets to feel and hear positive feedback,” McGee said. “[I’m] trying to build confidence and pride in employees, because when they’re getting that feedback and they feel good about their part…it will bring them back another day—and it will keep them wanting to come back… When they know that what they do matters—and they’re getting that feedback—that goes a long way.”